[star]The American Mind[star]

July 31, 2005

Thieves Target Retail

Organized crime has gone domestic. Gangs and crime rings now shoplift razors, prescription drugs, CDs, DVDs, and my favorite, hair-growth products. Yes, there's an black market to help balding men. The Washington Post reports:

Retailers and theft experts say criminals have discovered that large profits can be made relatively easily, and without much risk, by stealing merchandise from crowded, understaffed stores. They say the most stolen items tend to be high-priced, widely used products that are routinely sold in chain stores: over-the-counter medicines, razors, film, CDs and DVDs, baby formula, diapers, batteries, hair-growth and smoking-cessation products, hardware, tools, designer clothes and electronics.

Shoplifters might spend all day going from store to store, then sell the goods they've stolen to the fence for 10 or 20 percent of their retail value, said Chuck Miller, a retail security consultant in Great Falls and author of "Organized Retail Theft," a handbook published this month for industry professionals. Fences then aggregate the products from multiple shoplifters and sell them at flea markets, online or to bodegas and convenience stores, he said.

America's car-friendly road system and its resultant sprawl of retail centers not only conveniences shoppers but makes it easy for thieves to hop from store to store before a retail chain notices they've been struck.

Department stores and drug stores aren't the only targets. Bookstores are also targets. They contain small valuable items that can quickly be resold or "returned" for cash or other more-easily sold merchandise.

Much of the problem is pointed out in the Post story. Stores are understaffed. The ceaseless desire for maintaining profit margins, keeping labor costs down, and not raising prices for fickle, internet-informed consumers makes stores vulernable to shoplifting. It also doesn't help if the government isn't talking shoplifting seriously. An anti-theft official for Walgreens, Jerry Biggs has one example:

"I'm going after a guy right now that's been arrested 56 times," Walgreen's Biggs said. "I've got to put together a case that can show this isn't your typical little shoplifter."

The day after making that statement, Biggs called back to say he had just arrested the same shoplifter for the 57th time.

You'd think after the third time the police or a prosecutor would have taken this seriously.

"Retail Gangs: A New Breed of Thieves"

Posted by Sean Hackbarth in Economics at 06:00 PM | Comments (0)